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Montage of newspaper print and stills from the Grand Theft Auto 5 video game Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon

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Grand Theft Auto 5 role-players have created rival newspapers to document the city’s news

Meet the people behind Los Santos’ two news organizations

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Grand Theft Auto 5 role-playing server No Pixel works because of its rules, which is a weird thing to say about a place where there’s near constant chaos. In Los Santos, the city Grand Theft Auto 5 is set in, crime is what runs the city. Life revolves around it, with an infrastructure of emergency workers ready to take on whatever the day brings. There are more criminals in Los Santos than regular, everyday folks, but there are citizens on the peripherals of the city’s core: the interior decorators, car salespeople, driving instructors.

The rules that players need to follow to create chaos in Los Santos are strict; only a single mark against an account and a role-player could be banned. There are rules about staying in character. If there’s a server problem and the game’s frozen briefly, a player must role-play it out — for instance, server issues happen frequently, and when it’s happening, players often talk about having a headache. When a player decides to sign off, they’re to tell their pals they’re leaving the city or going to sleep.

But one of the most important rules is this: no metagaming. Grand Theft Auto 5 role-playing is very popular on Twitch, especially the No Pixel server, which uses a modded version of the game that adds new features and allows players into new areas of the map. Lots of people who don’t play on the server watch streamers role-play — there are only 64 slots on the server at any given time, after all — but role-players watch other role-players, too. This makes things complex for role-playing while actually in-game: you can’t let any knowledge acquired outside of the game impact your role-play, whether it’s information you got on Twitch, through Discord, or elsewhere. You’ve got to experience something in-character, or have someone explain it to you, if your character is to know about it.

Racing for scoops

The other way, of course, is to read about something in one No Pixel’s two news sources: Weazel News and the Los Santos Herald. Both are staffed by Grand Theft Auto 5 role-players that work as reporters in the city, most of whom work day-to-day to keep the citizens of Los Santos informed. It’s not the most glamorous job, nor is it the most exciting. But it’s a role that just makes sense, especially given how popular No Pixel is. Only 64 players are able to log into the server at one time. Anyone beyond that has to wait in a queue, which is often up to 100 players. The news crews are a way for players to keep their characters informed — without breaking the rules — while they’re outside the city.

“I want to reach a point where when someone logs into the server for the day, one of the first things they do is pull open their phone, go to the website, and see what news articles have been posted on Weazel News since they were last in the server,” former Twitch employee-turned-Grand Theft Auto 5 role-player named Jordan Hawker, who goes by AxleHellfire on Twitch and plays a character called Mickey Rivers, told me. “If I get to that point, that means I’ve reached the point where news role-play is considered a central part of the server.”

Weazel News is a more broadcast-centric organization, and its website is available for players to browse through on their in-game phones. The publication is run by Rivers, but he didn’t start the organization. Its founder, James Tinklebottom, went missing a few months back. Then the interim CEO, Minnie Canoozle, did, too.

Both role-players actually started new characters, Hawker told Polygon in an interview, but he’s role-playing out the scenario with Rivers — as he should. “I filed police reports [in No Pixel] to create a good story through this transition between characters,” Hawker said. “But we agreed upon behind-the-scenes [that I’d take over] since those characters were shelved.”

And that’s how Rivers, a failed reality TV producer who fell into a reporting job for a bit of extra cash, is in charge of Los Santos’ largest news organization.

Working as Rivers, Hawker chases stories in-game, whether that’s investigating big stories — he’s currently trying to get the scoop on No Pixel’s most notorious criminal, Bovice — or highlighting local businesses. He writes stories, interviews citizens using Grand Theft Auto 5’s in-game video camera, and negotiates ad sales. (Rivers is also kind of a snitch, Hawker said — not exactly a biased journalist, but that’s by design.) He’s also managing reporters, but it’s been hard to get people interested in the job, he said. That’s because it pays like shit. “These reporters don’t tend to make as much money from the job as any other on the server,” Hawker said. “It’s a grind financially.” I laughed. As a former freelance writer, I know the rules are too real.

The Los Santos Herald, on the other hand, is a “print” newspaper run by an investigative journalist, Wilhelmina Copperpot, played by a Twitch streamer named Laura who goes by CrayonPonyfish online. In-game, she likes to be called Willie, Laura told Polygon; she really leans into the investigator thing with her yellow pages ad: “Call Willie for Grade-A Dick.” (Dick… detective… get it?) Copperpot only recently started up the newspaper and works mostly by herself, doing all the reporting, writing, and design for the newspaper, which she “prints” into a digital image and posts on the No Pixel forum. Like Rivers, she chases stories in-game, whether that’s interviewing sources or visiting crime scenes. (Reporters on duty get an automatic notification, like cops, when a crime is triggered across the city, like a bank heist or a robbery.)

But she got into reporting by hanging out the Los Santos courtroom and reporting on stories the general public isn’t always able to see.

The Uchiha Case

On Sept. 11, Uchiha Jones stood in front of a judge in the Los Santos courthouse and listened to the verdict: guilty of murder — but he wouldn’t be sentenced to death. A crew of judges deliberated for around 15 minutes after hearing hours of testimony from both sides to come to the decision, the courtroom overflowing with the city’s residents eager to hear Uchicha’s fate.

Thousands more watched the trial streamed online some from the perspective of Uchiha himself, played by Twitch streamer Vincent Cyr. Others watched the court case unfold on Twitch from the perspective of one of the many onlookers in the gallery.

The Uchiha Case was one of the more high-profile cases in Los Santos court — the biggest story of the year, not only because Uchiha was facing the death penalty, but because the trial was very long. I tried to stay up to watch the whole thing on Twitch, through the eyes of Los Santos citizen Eugene Zuckerberg, played by a Twitch streamer called Vader, but I fell asleep at my laptop on and off throughout the five hours of testimony. I don’t role-play, on No Pixel or elsewhere, but I, too, turned to Weazel News to fill in the blanks. As it turns out, Weazel News played a more important part in the case than I originally understood: a freelance journalist was on-scene during a key incident — the Pillbox Medical massacre — and captured footage of the aftermath. The journalist, Raymond Porter, was called to the stand to testify about the footage. (Of course, covering the case was now a conflict of interest for Porter, so Rivers assigned another reporter for the job.)

Copperpot was in the courtroom for the case, too; she prefers taking notes, while Weazel News typically relies on video. Both have since covered the case, Copperpot’s story in “print” and Weazel News’ with video online. Because of the importance of the case — and No Pixel’s rules — it’s crucial that there’s coverage available for role-players to keep up with the server. (And it was important even for people in the courtroom; at some point, people started getting bored. “I think everyone wanted to just go to sleep by the third hour,” Laura laughed.)

A Grand Theft Auto 5 role-player wearing red glasses and holding a cigarette
Wilhelmina Copperpot, investigative journalist
Image: Rockstar Games/CrayonPonyfish via Polygon

A quick news cycle

The reality is, though, that a lot of role-players don’t even know they have access to these news sources that would only enrich their role-play. Both Hawker and Laura said they spend a lot of time doing “marketing” for their organizations. “One of my biggest fears before I posted the first issue was that people would be like, ‘Wow, what a tryhard. That’s pretty cringe, bro,’” Laura said. “But people have been really supportive.”

After all, the news cycle in Grand Theft Auto 5’s is, almost certainly, even quicker than our own. Everything is sped up — often times, it feels like something is news only as it’s happening. The drama that unfolds on No Pixel is living, a soap opera that’s constantly playing. Stories play out in waves, as role-players in different time zones sign on and off throughout the day. I like watching Grand Theft 5 role-playing streams because they’re always on, new story lines emerging even when I’m not watching.

There is no way to keep up with it all. Neither Weazel News nor the Los Santos Herald is No Pixel’s paper of record — but they’re trying to be. The server is a digital world, but a living one, too. News organizations documenting these moments, however fleeting they are, means we all can remember its history.